December 5, 2016

When our Gratitude Practice becomes Self-Centered.

grateful, gratitude, meme


A few years ago, gratitude journals were a kind of niche, but this year there’s an array of options as I try to choose mine for the coming year.

Maybe the gold and pink one, or the earthy one with a hemp heart?

As I sweat out my choice, I can’t help but remember Sara*.

Sara, came into my life when our house/animal sitter bailed at the eleventh hour. Having just arrived in town, she was living in her car while looking for work and a home, so she was thrilled to have our place for three weeks.

Sara, was gentle and loved animals. I liked her. It was a win-win.

On our return, Sara had nowhere else to go to. We agreed that she could stay longer while she looked for other accommodations. Then Sara’s car broke down, making it harder for her to look for work.

My partner and I agreed that in exchange for our spare room and some meals, Sara would help with chores. With our busy lives, we needed it. Especially with the garden, which looked more like the Mekong jungle than a suburban block.

Sara tearfully acknowledged that we had erred on the side of generosity in our offering. We also lent her money to get her car fixed.

Cue the shocker.

Most days when Sara could have been helping, she was in her room with the door closed doing a gratitude meditation. Or filling in the blanks in her gratitude journal. She’d come out in a mushroom cloud of sandalwood incense looking serene, and glide past me and the vacuum cleaner, heading to the kitchen to get down and grateful with her morning smoothie.

Sara was committed to her gratitude rituals, but nowhere near as committed to helping the people who were helping her.

Sara gave me insight. She showed me how we can use gratitude to help ourselves feel good, but not to help others. We can practise it, but keep the benefits just for ourselves. Me in my own little gratitude pod. Me feeling better about myself for giving thanks.

But if gratitude is only serving to make me feel better about myself, am I nurturing a sense of giving back to life or just fueling self-focus?

Has my ego snuck in through the back door and made gratitude all about me?

If we’re growing a grateful heart as part of our spiritual practice, then we have a responsibility to plug it in. To show life we mean it by giving it an expression that doesn’t just makes us feel good, but others too.

The divine (life) is there in all human interactions.

I often go within to commune with gratitude. I fortify it by stocktaking what I have rather than thinking about what I want and haven’t got. Gratitude disarms our lack perspective and hushes a whinging mind. It humbles me and makes me more present, and therefore, happier.

It’s easy to be grateful when everything is flowing beautifully on the upstream, but it’s much testier when life feels like it’s serving up a sh*t sandwich. Digging out the riches in the worst, crappiest situations shows me life is working for me, not against me.

It can take a huge amount of inner work to get to gratitude after painful life experiences. To really appreciate the deepening or learning we perhaps didn’t want. And to soften into really valuing the tough stuff that grows us, if we’re willing.

Ongoing commitment is required to cultivate a grateful heart—and a journal or meditation can really help with that.

When Sara closed the door and hid from her chores, maybe she was working through something that was swallowing her up. I know that place; I’ve been there, too.

Introspection is part of a spiritual life, but the danger occurs when we get stuck there.

Personal gratitude, one-on-one and self-to-self, is powerful and essential. And in a sense, it’s already altruistic. I’m plugging into a higher vibration, one that can help raise the earth’s energy, which is chock-full of non-gracious gremlins.

But I remind myself of this, too. Gratitude is not just something we aspire to—it’s also something we show. It’s not just interacting with ourselves and aligning with better energy. It’s action, and interaction.

It’s throwing the bedroom door open, sharing the sandalwood and remembering how the vacuum works. It’s getting in the Mekong jungle garden when we’d rather be drinking a smoothie.

It’s giving. And giving back.

*Name and identity have been changed.


Author: Dettra Rose

Image: imgflip

Editor: Nicole Cameron

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